student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

VRP Madness Continued: My All Time Favorites

I’m not really sure how to start this post. It’s pretty easy to rant about stuff that made you hate a game, but things that make you love a game seldom seem to induce such entertaining passion. I think, though, that my best bet is to make a few picks, and then see where it takes me, which is more or less what I did in my last post.

My Brother (in this post) talked about story and had very little to say about play mechanics. I’m not going to go that route, because play mechanics can make or break a game for me. I can’t sit through a great storyline if the mechanics of the game yield no entertainment (this happens to me with Action RPGs on a fairly regular basis, especially older ones); meanwhile, if the gameplay is  frakkin’ fantastic, I will ignore story thinness and issues – or, at the least, I will ignore them while playing (again, Action RPGs are most frequently the culprits, as will become fairly obvious).

Like my last post, these are in no particular order. Also, there’s a game on this list that my Beloved will severely disagree with, unlike my last list. I imagine there will be an interesting discussion. Perhaps I can get her to record a video counter-point for my inclusion of Skyrim on this list… Anyway, you;re going to find more in common between these two lists than the other two because, let’s face it – some games really are that awesome.

Where to start? Which game to I want to rave about first? Hmmm… Oh – I know! Just like last time, I’ll start with one that’s on my brother’s list! Here we go:

Chrono Trigger

Chrono trigger's cast, more or less

Chrono Trigger's cast. The original box art is awful. Not Original Mega Man awful, but pretty bad.

Did I Finish It?: Six times at my last count. I imagine I’ll finish it several more times in the future.

A certain amount of any “I loved this game…” involving SNES or NES games will always be nostalgia. There’s no getting around it – I’ve gone back to play games I loved as a kid, and found them unplayable. This happens more frequently with Atari 2600 games, but it happens a lot with SNES and NES games. A good example is the original Final Fantasy: while I can play the re-makes for the Game Boy Advance, PSP, and so on readily enough, the actual original NES game is impossible for me to play now. The difficulty is preposterous, and the visuals give me a headache. The stilted dialogue, the almost silly frequency of battle, the limited graphics: all of it combine to make a game that I just can’t enjoy anymore – and yet, I still have fond memories of the thing.

None of that applies to Chrono Trigger.

This is, in my opinion, the best game Square (Now Square/Enix) ever made. It beast the entire Final Fantasy series by a fair margin in my book. The combat system is close to perfect – fun and engaging, with opponents you can see on the map screen and occasionally even avoid. The story is fantastic, the characters are great, and you can have an impact on how the game progresses and ends. The art is beautiful in an old-school-game sort of way, and the Dual and Tri attacks are cool to watch and effective.

If you like RPGs at all and you haven’t played this game, you really should. I suggest getting the recent DS release (which I bought for my fiancee as a Christmas Present), since it’s got a lot of neat added stuff, but (unlike the Final Fantasy 4 DS remake) is still the same game.

An Honorable Mention goes here for the sequel Chrono Cross. I didn’t like it as much, and the color-splash thingy in the combat system frankly annoyed me, but it’s a fantastic game with a great story and what I still think is the best opening music in the history of video games.

Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas box art
Image via Wikipedia
Now that’s good cover art right there,

Did I Finish It?: Not yet, but that’s not the point.

My love of Open World RPGs didn’t start with Fallout: New Vegas, but it’s the best one I’ve ever played, bugs and all. Yes, it was very buggy on release – and it still is, with the PC version suffering from the same “I can’t exit the game properly” and occasional Crash To Desktop issues that also plague Fallout 3 and Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. I don’t care. This is a fantastic game.

The world feels very real here – it’s huge and easy to get lost in. There is so much going on in tis game that it’s almost impossible to properly comment on it, since any real commentary would fall short. There are lots of characters, each one individually crafted and loaded with personality (with the exception of some of the troopers for the various factions). The massive wilderness is breathtaking. And here’s the bit I love the most: it doesn’t matter one lick if you never ever even glance at the main plot. In fact, the vengeance basis of the main plotline makes it so that you can just decide that your character thinks he/she is luck to be alive and wants nothing to do with the folks who tried to kill him/her.

This makes its opening the freest of the free. Unlike some other games I’m about to rave about from Bethesda, the main quest is great, but you can ignore it without feeling like your character is being willfully ignorant of the world he/she is in. Maybe your character is terrified of seeing the man who tried to kill hi again. Maybe your character isn”t interested in vengeance. Maybe a lot of other things: the point is, you can do what you want, and have perfectly good in-character reasons for choosing whatever path you like. You can even skip over all the introductory hand-holding by just leaving the starting town shortly after character generation.

This is my favorite Bethesda game so far, although I hold out high hopes for Fallout 4 (which is, if you think about it, inevitable now that Skyrim is out). It does right everything Fallout 3 (which is also awesome) did wrong. The only problem I have is the Perk-every-other-level thing, but that’s not a huge deal.

The Elder Scrolls 3, 4, and 5 (That would be Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim)

Did I Finish It?: Morrowind sorta, the other two, no – but, again, that’s not the point

Starting with Morrowind, all of the Elder Scrolls games have been fantastic. Daggerfall (Elder Scrolls 2) was pretty good too, but it’s overly complicated and by the time I played it, the graphics were horribly dated.

These are open-world games to the core, with main quests you are free to ignore or follow to your heart’s content. Each has its issues, some of which are baffling to me, and all three are/were kinda buggy, but I don’t care. They7 have good stories whether you follow the main plot or not.

My specific objections to each:

  • Morrowind has a clunky UI and inventory system. It works when you get used to it, but it’s still unintuitive.
  • Oblivion has multiple minor issues  – the creepy dead-eye stare of the NPCs, the awful Pie-Chart speechcraft mini game, and the Psychic Guards are all minor things. The only major problem I have with it is the leveling system: you’re better off intentionally not leveling by choosing for main skills things you have no intention of using. As you level up in the game, you start running into bandits wearing fantastically expensive armor, which begs the question of why they’re bandits at all: if they sold their armor, they could live on the residuals for more than a year.
  • Skyrim is my fave of the three, but the main quest is the weakest of the three as well. Moreover, you’re forced to play through a goodly portion of it just to get the best power in the game, while all the other Best Stuff thingies are gained through not-main-questlines and the unbelievably in-depth crafting system. The lockpicking system is stolen directly from Fallout 3/New Vegas as well, but I see this as more of a bonus than a weakness.
The freedom in these games, coupled with the great Alchemy crafting in all three (best in Skyrim, but really good in Morrowind and pretty neat in Oblivion) and the amazing expansions releaced for Morrowind and Oblivion make these games infinitely replayable. Oh – and did I mention how awesome the mod communities for all of them are? That applies to the Fallout series as well, by the way – but that’s pretty useless if you’re playing the console version. I’ve always wondered why they never converted the tools for consoles, a la Little Big Planet – but I guess with these games, that would be terrifyingly complicated.

Final Fantasy 4, 5, and 6

Final Fantasy 5 - this screenshot shows off the incredible "Jobs" system of the game. I always made my male characters into wizards and my females into badass warriors, just to go against JVRP stereotypes. Is that sexist?

Did I Finish It?: Each one multiple times

These are the best games in the Final Fantasy series, in my opinion. I don’t really have a lot to say about them, but it seems that you’re required to include some sort of Final Fantasy game or two in any list of favorite VRP games. For the record, Final Fantasy 5 is my favorite: fantastic Jobs system with great characters and some genuinely good storytelling, even if it gets a little thin towards the end.

These games haven’t weathered the years as well as Chrono Trigger did, and if you want to try them out, I recommend getting the most recent re-releases for each – especially the Nintendo DS version of Final Fantasy 4, which is frankly amazing and better than the original in every way I can think of.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment: the Job system in Final Fantasy 5 is something that Square should have kept for later games. I know it wouldn’t fit well into some of them (10 springs to mind), but I loved it so very much. The idea that I could improve my characters how I wanted to, and assign them to the roles I needed them to play at any given moment was awesome. The way you could “buy” abilities that could then be used while playing other jobs made it even better. This should have become the FF default system as far as I’m concerned. It’s almost identical, by the way, to the Jobs system in Final Fantasy Tactics, another game I loved.

Lunar: Silver Star Story

This game has the best story of any JVRP game ever. I'm sorry, it just does - even though it's based on the "rescue the girl" trope.

Did I Finish It?: Oh, YES. Oh, very YES.

I love this game so very much. Yeah, the plot is based on a trope that borders on cliche – essentially the same plot of virtually every Mario game ever made. It works here, though, because:

  1. None of the female characters in the game are portrayed as being helpless
  2. the “princess” you’re set to rescue stays in your party long enough for you to develop an attachment to her
  3. Well, there was a 3, but it’s way too much of a spoiler. Coming from me, that’s saying something.
I know it’s not exactly feminist friendly, but, again, I don’t care. This game is amazing. It is JVRP perfection, and the fact that they keep re-making it again and again has to be some kind of testament to that – doesn’t it?

Baldur’s Gate Series

I love this game. Seriously - I love it a lot.

Did I Finish It: Yes – both games plus expansions, including once using Baldur’s Gate Trilogy, which might be the best mod ever made for any game ever.

During the late 90s and early 2000s, Bioware was responsible for a rash of D&D video games all built of something called the “Infinity Engine”. Now, I want to state that literally all of these Infinity Engine games are amazing. The Icewind Dale series, the Baldur;s Gate Series, and Planescape: Torment are all fantastic games that deserve to be on this list. They’re all worth your time even to this day, and that ain’t nothin’. You can, by the way get them allevery one – in Windows 7 compatible formats from Good Old Games – and if you don’t have them or haven’t played them, you really should.

Still, Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 are the only ones I always make sure are installed on my computer, usually with the Baldur’s Gate Trilogy mod added in. Great characters, real meaning in in-game decisions, and a strong and friendly Mod community make these games eternal. BG has a fantastic storyline well told. The UI is a bit clunky by today’s standards, but it’s worth it for the writing, character development, and fantastic combat system. This is the closest to a real D&D experience you can get without actually sitting around a table with other people.

I need to mention, at least in passing, that there are also Console games called Baldur’s Gate. These aren’t nearly as good, and are basically D&D flavored Diablo clones. They’re great fun and worth playing, but they don’t hold a candle to the PC games.

I could go on – for a few hours probably – but I think these are representative. My next post will be about D&D Next. Look for it in the next couple days.

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VRP Madness 9.2: That is, 4.1 + 5.1 – A companion to two posts

In his two most recent posts, my brother went over endings of video games, and over what he called the worst games he’s ever played. In my ongoing series of walking-in-my-brother’s-shadow posts, I’m going to be rolling both of these into one entry. There are two reasons for this – first, I’m lazy and a day behind him. Second, the two topics seem closely related, so my laziness is working to my advantage for once. It’s a complete coincidence, but it’s nice when things work out, isn’t it?

My brother, as you no doubt will have read by now, discusses the idea that multiple endings are a good thing. I basically agree, although I do think that there are times when one ending is sufficient. All things being equal, multiple endings give the illusion that the decisions you make on behalf of your character matter, but things aren’t always equal. In the Legend of Zelda series, the plots are so straightforward that they really permit only one ending – either you finish the game and the bad guy doesn’t destroy Hyrule, or you don’t and he does. Non-VRPs frequently need only one ending. For instance, how much sense would multiple endings for Super Mario Brothers make? Even still, most of the time, my brother’s right: multiple endings rock your face off.

This also applies to a closely related genre – the Survival Horror game. Silent Hill is an amazing series, in no small part because you can complete the game, and yet still loose utterly. The idea that you can play the game to its completion and still fail adds to the tension required for basing a game on terror. It isn’t an absolute requirement, of course, but it helps.

The Worst Games

My brother lists several Worst Games, and I agree that the games he lists are, in fact, pretty bad. I mean, they’re all pretty decent games when you’re playing them (except the Lord of the Rings one), but he’s absolutely right that, at some point, they just go completely off the rails. I never even finished Final Fantasy 8, and I’ll be getting to that in a minute.

He leaves out games that he didn’t finish, and I’m not willing to do that. There have been some games where the game itself was just so damn godawful that I couldn’t finish it. So, I thought I’d do my own list, and include some that I just plain couldn’t finish. I’m going to open with one that I share my brother’s opinion on, and see where things take me from there. Just like his list, these are in no particular order.

Final Fantasy 8

Did I Finish It?: No – and I never, ever, ever will.

I hate this game so much that it’s impacted how I feel about VRPs in general. After the brilliance of Final Fantasies 4, 6, and 7, I was primed for something fantastic. What I got instead was the most obnoxious main character I’ve ever encountered, a air-headed bimbo-anti-feminist eff-tard for a love interest, a story that was more padding than actual tale, a collectible card minigame that is more fun than the rest of the game it’s in put together, but is completely ruined halfway through the game,  and a combat system that has the illusion of being awesome for he first few hours of the game, but then descends into utter tedium.

My brother went over the horrible characters, but I just don’t think he went far enough. None of the characters are especially interesting. Two women fall in love with an emotionally dead jackoff – and it’s presented as some kind of fantastic romance. In one scene, Rhinoa is dangling by one hand from a cliff, and although it’s supposed to be a big, tense moment, I took my time on the way to rescue her in the vain hope that she might fall to her death, improving the game significantly in doing so. No such luck. Square could have improved the game if it was just possible for that weak, sappy, wet-noodle stereotype to die. The only thing that would have improved the game more would have been if Squall could have died – preferably horribly – as well.

Final Fantasy 8 was such a horrifying waste of time for me that I can count on one hand the number of Japanese VRPs I’ve finished since. I couldn’t even get through the comparatively better Final Fantasy 10 because I couldn’t stop thinking about the atrocity that was 8.

Beyond the Beyond

Did I Finish It?: Not even close.

It’s been a long time since I played this one, and, frankly, I didn’t get far enough into it to comment on the plot. It was one of the first RPGs available on the Playstation, and since I’m an RPG fan…  I’m sure I remember it being worse than it actually is, but the combat system was mind-blowingly, will-suckingly dull. It also used a combination of polygonal and pixel graphics that hurt my brain at the time. Looking at picture os it still hurts my brain today:

Out of respect for the brain cells of my few readers, however, I'm not posting video. If you feel compelled to seek out the game, I personally think you would be better off hitting yourself in the head with a brick - but that's just my advice.

Oh, and after checking the Wikipedia entry for it, I don’t feel so bad about not being able to remember any of the plot. It’s… pretty generic:

Long ago in the world of Beyond the Beyond, a battle raged between the ‘Beings of Light’ and the ‘Warlocks of the Underworld’. Before the planet was destroyed, the two sides signed a treaty leaving the surface world to the Beings of Light and underground to the Warlocks. After hundreds of years of peace, inexplicable happenings begin to occur. The player must control Finn, a young swordsman, to stop the evil power that has broken the treaty and invaded the surface world. – Via Wikipedia

I mean… wow.

Fable 3

Did I Finish It?: Not yet, but I probably will some day.

This one is kind of an odd duck because it does so very, very many things right. Graphically, it’s impressive, although the character art style isn’t my cup of tea. The play control is outstanding (most of the time), and the magic system is cool. In many ways it’s a distinct improvement over Fable 2. But then…

In order to become “friends” with someone, you have to do them a “favor”, which typically involves running out into the middle of nowhere and digging something up. To then become their “best friend” or “boy/girlfriend” you have to repeat the procedure. Now, I will grant you that being able to get an entire town to fall in love with you by dancing in the middle of the square (a la Fable 2) is unrealistic, this procedure is just plain annoying.

There are no menus. Instead of going to a menu screen to, say, select a different weapon, you push start and are transported to a magical room that you must then navigate by walking around to the different options. Calling this annoying misses the mark by a bit. I can see what they were trying to do – by removing as much of the UI as possible, they were hoping to increase immersion. It failed.

Most irritating, however, is the second “half” of the game. You are forced to make a variety of promises in the first portion of the game (you don’t have a choice, like, at all). This all leads up to taking the throne from your brother, who has been an absolute bastard. He then proceeds to explain to you – and all the people you made promises to – exactly why he was being such a complete bastard: Something That Should Not Be is coming to destroy Albion (the country you’ve just assumed leadership of). The Something That Should Not Be (STSNB) is very Lovecraftian – an ancient and terrible evil that seeks only to bring suffering and slaughter. It’s primary form is a living black tar-like substance, and it’s frankly creepy.

You already know how horrible this stuff is, because one of the allies you made a promise to had her entire region laid waste by it. Moreover, your mentor was briefly possessed by the crud, and was left horribly psychologically scarred by it. The scene in which you first encounter the stuff is memorable in that it feels almost more like a Survival Horror game than a Fantasy RPG. The scenes involving it that you’ve already been through ain’t art, but they get the point across: the STSNB is a Very Bad Thing.

Now, your Brother was being an absolute bastard so that he could amass a treasury that would be able to buy enough mercenaries, siege weapons, and so on to fight off the STSNB. All of the folks you’ve made promises to hear him tell you that it’s coming in a year. You need something like 1 million pieces of gold to have enough to keep the people of Albion safe. In his entire reign of being an evil fucktard, your brother has managed to amass 10,000 or so. It’s up to you now to decide how the Kindgom will be run. Will you keep your promises, or will you continue your brother’s reign of terror?

It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Allow me to heave a heavy sigh.

You are faced, as King/Queen, a series of decisions that all essentially revolve around whether or not you keep your promises. Without fail, the person you made your promise to argues in front of you the need to spend a shit-ton of money right frakkin’ now, or you can go with Stephen Fry arguing that you should continue your brother’s tradition of being an evil jerk. Never mind that literally everyone who is asking you to spend money right frakkin’ now knows that if you don’t save a bunch of money everyone in Albion will die horribly, consumed in terror in less than a year. Never mind that the one who asks you to spend the most money is the one whose land has already been destroyed by the coming terror.

You are only given a choice between “I am an angel, a perfect being, who will be beatific in all things, even though it means all my people will DIE HORRIBLY AND IN TERROR AND PAIN” and “I am the world’s biggest bastard, and I will keep my people as miserable as possible, but they’ll live”. All of the people you made promises to seem to be completely incapable of grasping that, for just one year, they might have to bite a few bullets.

For instance: at one point, you are given two options: end all child labor and provide government schools, or force the kids to work even longer days than they already are. There is no option to, say, abolish child labor, but wait just one frakking year to establish a state-sponsored school system. In another instance, someone calls upon you to keep your promise to re-open a University; you can spend the money to make the University state-sponsored, or you can re-open the university as a for-profit institution where people have to pay tuition. You can’t, I dunno, just wait one fucking year to re-open the University. You can’t, say, make the tuition based on what the University student can afford. You can’t do anything other than re-open the University – and, wait for this one, even though all you promised was to re-open the University, it’s treated as breaking your promise if you ask people to pay for their own education.

Fable 3 wasn’t that great to begin with, to be perfectly honest with you. The preposterous number of fetch quests, the lackluster writing, and the fact that every commoner in the whole of Albion is voiced by one of four voice actors (a male or a female adult voice actor, or a male or female child voice actor – usually appropriate to the character), never mind the fact that your Hero of Legend can’t even jump make it only okay at best. Weird UI choices and a few other things make it a bit more annoying. But the end of the game – oh, man. It’s just so terrible. I’m not far from the end, and I’m ready to spend every penny in may treasury just to let the stupid people die. It’s that bad.

Dragon Age

Dragon Age: Origins

Image via Wikipedia; boredom via Bioware

Did I Finish It?: Are you kidding? I didn’t get past the opening area of the game. After spending five minutes reading the meaningless dialogue of yet another pointless NPC, I was just done.

Here we have a sad case of Bioware trying so very hard to re-create the wonder they had with the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale series, and falling short of the mark. The game has its ups and downs, but it unfortunately falls mostly on the down side.

What we have here is a great story buried under mountains of, well, crap. I’m not going to speak to the primary story of the game – as far as I can tell, from everything I’ve seen, it’s about as good as everyone says it is. I, however, will never know, because I can’t get into it.

In the intro section, I was greeted with paragraphs upon paragraphs of text from NPCs who, in the end, had nothing to do with anything. Almost every opening game, tutorial quest involved backtracking and multitudes of frankly useless and unnecessary steps. This isn’t typical modern-game tutorial hand-holding. This is being strapped into a high chair and force-fed strained peas. I realize that the force feeding ends eventually (sorta), but I just couldn’t get past it. It seemed like literally every character needed to tell me their life story, and only at the end did they let me know if there was anything I could do for them – and there frequently wasn’t.

But wait, you say, You constantly talk about how much you love Baldur’s Gate 2 and Final Fantasy 6 – don’t both of those games have lots of dialogue? What about Skyrim? it’s full of dialogue as well! What now, Mr. Hypocrite?. You’re right – I love BG2, and I love Skyrim.  I was also very fond of Morrowind, Fallout 3, and Final Fantasy 7 – all of which are dialogue heavy. There’s no hypocrisy here, though – Those games all dispensed their dialogue in small bursts, and NPCs that really didn;t have much to do with anything also didn’t have much to say.  In Dragon Age (and Mass Effect, for that matter), on the other hand, if you brush up against someone, they feel the need to tell you their life story. Now, I mentioned Mass Effect had this problem too, but it;s not on this list. Why, you ask?

I hated the combat in Dragon Age as well. This one I can’t really talk to much about, except to say that it wasn’t my cuppa. It felt too artificial and board-gamy, which is fine as far as it goes, but it just didn’t gel for me into something fun. The environments were also drab, dull, and repetitive. Finally, it was too… mean. I don’t care about grim in games – I love Silent Hill, after all – but Dragon Age isn’t just grim. It’s mean-spirited.

But Wait! You said you didn’t get very far in it! True enough – but I watched my Fiancee play quite a bit, and my impression did not improve.

And now, the zenith. I know I said these aren’t ranked, but this next one is the worst. For a lot of reasons. I’ve saved it for last because, well, it was critically acclaimed. Game Informer loved it. So did most of the other critics – it got 84 out of 100 on Metacritic, and I hate it so very much. Welcome to:

Final Fantasy 13

Did I Finish It?: No. Neither did my fiancee. She did better than I did though, albeit only out of sheer determination to continue her Final Fantasy Completist Streak.

Rather than final Fantasy, I like to call this game “Walk Down the Hall and Push A”. I imagine for Playstation 3 owners, it’s “Walk Down a Hall and Push X”, but you get the idea. I know I come from a school of VRP players who believe that More Freedom = Good – hence the Terrarria obsession, and the absolute sublime joy I get from Skyrim. That having been said, I still maintain that Lunar: Silver Star Story is one of the greatest RPGs ever made for any system ever, and probably always will be. In Lunar, you have essentially no freedom: you vill follow the story aund you vill like it! And damn straight you will – fantastically crafted with enagaing characters and, despite its absolute linearity, you have plenty of room to explore, and – in the Revised Edition, anyway – extra dungeons that have nothing to do with anything. The combat system is simplistic but workable, and even has basic tactical movement worked in. Lunar is as linear as it gets (or so I thought), and it’s still one of the greatest RPGs ever made – better than Chrono Trigger, and that’s saying a hell of a lot.

The level of freedom you have in Final Fantasy 13 makes Lunar look like Skyrim. Square should be ashamed.

For the first twenty frakking hours of the game, you walk down one completely linear corridor after another, smashing the crap out of the A button to do anything. Interact with the environment? Press A. In a battle? Press A. Trying to skip one of the poorly scripted, poorly acted, nonsensical cutscenes? You can’t – you’re stuck with them, but if you could you would Press A to do it. Basically, walk down the corridor and press A. A lot. Until your thumb is reduced to a bloody stump. Then, continue to press A some more, using some other appendage that you’ve come to hate, as you continue into your fifth hour of play.

Treats to look out for: Endless battles. When those are over, you can… have another! Yay! Also, if you want to have the slightest fucking clue what the hell is going on, you need to read through all of the gameworld encyclopedia stuff that keeps popping up as you get into the game. Within the first five hours, you’ve accumulated approximately the same word count as Stephen Kings’ Under the Dome. In another three hours, you’ll be tying the entire Gunslinger series.

Okay, you know what, Square/Enix? Either write a novel or make a game. There’s a fucking difference, you long-windeded pretentious cockbags! I love to read, and I love to play games, but asking me to read War and Peace in order to have a fucking clue what’s going on in your game is kind of asking a lot.

Also – and I can’t stress this enough – you need more than exactly one interesting character in an RPG. Half Life 2 has a dozen, and it’s a fucking first person shooter – not a genre known for its incredible characterization.

There is a lot of talk about 13’s “innovative” combat system. I will admit that there are a lot of ideas there, but none of them are especially good ideas. There’s this whole “paradigm shift” mechanic wherein you can create pre-programmed AI for two out of three people in your party, while maintaining a small amount of control over your primary character, who is usually either Lightning (the only vaguely interesting character in the game), but may be Offensive Black Stereotype B (Sazh Katsroy, who has a 70s/80s disco era afro with some sort of animal living in it, and who – I wish I was kidding – shucks and jives his way through combat while dual-wielding the only pistols in the game[1]), or Ultra Annoying Girl Stereotype Specifically Designed To Piss Off Feminists (named Vanille), or Emo Kid Who Kind Of Looks Like Justin Bieber (A fellow by the name of Snow). In any case, as far as I can tell, all this paradigm system does is:

  1. Remove most of the control of the characters fro the person playing the game, causing you to press A repreatedly to prompt them to do the only think they can currently do
  2. Cause you to spend at least one or two rounds every combat using tactics that make absolutely no sense under the circumstances
  3. Read an assload more text to figure out how, exactly, the moronic system is supposed to work
  4. Misuse the word “paradigm” horribly
It boggles my mind that many of the positive reviews highlight this inane combat system as one of the greatest parts of the game.

I could go on for hours like this, but you know what? I’m not even going to bother. The only thing the game really has going for it is that it’s pretty as all hell. It reminds me of the most horrible advice I’ve ever heard a mother give a daughter: “It’s better to be pretty than smart”. It was horseshit when the lady said it to her tweenage daughter at Wal-Mart, and it’s horseshit in the context of a video game.

As a side note, I will eventually be posting a Video or something similar from my fiancee on the subject of Dragon Age, Final Fantasy 13, and other games that really, really piss her off. Listening o her rant about games she hates is one of my great joys in life, and I want to share it with the world.

Next time: my favorites. Probably. Unless I decide to talk about D&D Next.


[1] – He kind of reminds me of Deon Richmond‘s character Malik in Not Another Teen Movie – except that movie was parody and satire with a healthy dose of irony; the whole idea of Malik was that he was the Token Black Character in a teen coming of age comedy and he knew it. Malik, in other words, spends the whole movie lampshading this trope, and it’s hilarious.

Sahz, on the other hand, is just fucking offensive. I quit the game about an hour after meeting the character because I just couldn’t take it. He’s like something out of a minstrel show.

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VRP Madness (3.1): Going Off the Rails

Before reading this post, you’ll need to read one of my Brother’s again – specifically this one.

Are you back? Fantastic. As you’ll recall, in that post my brother describes what he calls three sub-types of RPG – Fixed, Semi-Fluid, and Inconsequential Fluid.  Now, I’m not going to go with Semi-Fluid in this post because when spoken aloud, it sounds far too much like “seminal fluid“, and that creeps me out. I’m going to go with quasi-fluid instead. The quasi- prefix and the semi- prefix don’t mean exactly the same thing, but I think they’re close enough to interchange them for the purpose of avoiding my own bizarre skwik factor.

I will disagree with my brother in the most complimentary way I can think of: these three aren’t sub-categories. These are actual categories that aren’t based on cultural/geographical distinction. By creating three categories here, he’s actually taken the old, Japanese/American division of RPGs and thrown them out the window in favor of a three-tier grouping that can whether the fact that there are many, many games that originate in neither America nor Japan. For instance, I can call Fable II a quasi-fluid game without calling it an “American-style game”. Since Lionhead Studios – the guys who developed the Fable series – are a British company, I think it’s probably better not to call their game “American”, don’t you?

My brother’s brilliance aside, I would like to suggest a fourth group, which I will call Completely Fluid. A Completely Fluid game is one where there really isn’t a story at all – there’s a situation and a world, and that’s it. Any other story you come up with is yours. Generally, games like these don’t really have endings at all. My brother can be forgiven for not thinking of this himself – I doubt he’s ever played such a game, and if he did, he might not have thought of it as an RPG. I imagine that a lot of people have played some of these games without thinking of them as role-playing games, but that’s exactly what they are. Moreover, proper COmpletely Fluid games are a pretty recent development, and no major studio has latched onto the idea (although one studio has become a major studio by pioneering, if not inventing, this group of games).

I can think of many examples of Completely Fluid games, but most of them are essentially clones of one. The two distinct examples that come to mind for me are Minecraft and Terraria.

Now, if you don’t know anything about Minecraft, I can only assume that you don’t pay any attention to the world of Video Games at all. I’m not a fan (yet) of Minecraft myself, although I haven’t played the full game extensively. Actually, that’s not accurate – I haven’t played the game for more than five minutes. It seems that there’s a threshold for that game, after which one is totally addicted, and I’m assuming that threshold is somewhere around the one-hour mark. I can’t afford to have a Minecraft addiction – it would interfere with my Terraria addiction.

Terraria has been described as a 2d version of Minecraft. That’s not correct, but it does, at least, bring the basic image to mind. In Terraria, you mine for ore, build an (ever-expanding) domicile for yourself an a growing collection of NPCs, and craft stuff. You also fight an astonishing array of less than friendly creatures and do one hell of a lot of exploring.

As I said, a Completely Fluid game consists of a World and a Situation, and not a plot. In Terraria, you find yourself on a world where “corruption” is encroaching, the Eye of Cthulhu is coming to teach you the pleasures of pain, and a few other things are going on that are equally distressing. Now, the situation is impending in every game. In the end, you choose when, or even if, things ever come to a head with the Eye, or any of the other “boss monsters” in the world.

These two Completely Fluid VRPGs have something else in common – the ability to run multiplayer servers, so you can share the adventure. They’re also very mod-friendly, evidenced by the massive mod Community.  They both also feature randomly generated worlds that can be exported and shared, and have a heavy crafting focus.

In any case, the purpose of this post is essentially to bring these games to light. I suppose you could make the argument that they;re not RPGs at all, but I would have to disagree.


Next up: VRP Madness (4.1): more on endings. Or something like that. Whatever, it’ll be a companion piece to this post from my brother’s blog.

English: Fluid physics animation.

Image via Wikipedia; now look at this animation, and start saying "semi-fluid" to yourself over and over again. Keep track of how long it takes you to get completely skwiked, and let me know in the comments. Think of it as an experiement in subliminal context.

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Computer and Console RPGs – A Different Voice, Part 1

First things first: Wizards of the Coast announced that it’s working on a new edition of D&D – most fans are calling it 5e, but the Wizards Team keeps referring to it as “D&D Next”, which sounds kinda cool when you’re not speaking out loud. I will be making a full blog post discussing my thoughts on the matter, and some of the things I think could make D&D Next the best D&D edition ever. That’s for another day. If you’re interested in following the ongoing discussion, you should follow #dndnext on Twitter, and sign up for the “open” beta (I’ll get to that in a post eventually) on the Wizards website. In any case, none of that has anything to do with what I’m going to be talking about today, so I’m moving on.

Before proceeding, you should probably read my Brother’s blog posts: First this one, and then this one.

I indicated in comments to my brother that I would be providing a sorta follow-along blog to his, since he committed to a week about Computer and Console RPGs, and it’s an interest we share.  We also share an interest in the more table-top style of RPG – in inverse proportions, no less. So, since I’m the complete nut in the family on that subject, you may find it creeping in to the conversation., Anyone who’s read more than a few of my blog posts would probably expect no less.

In his second post on the subject, Cullen talks about the two primary groups of Computer/Console RPG (I’ll be using his initialism, VRP, from this point forward). He – and many others – divide the VRP world into two very broad categories: Japanese Style and American Style, or Eastern and Western style, if you prefer. I’m not going to go over the terms again; I’m not especially fond of them, but they’re basically what we have to work with.

Assuming you read Cullen’s posts (you did, right?), you know that he outlined the basic difference between the two, and what he sees as the central strengths and flaws of the two different types. He also discussed a few examples – Icewind Dale and Dragon Age as Western RPGs, and Final Fantasy 6 and Lunar: Silver Star Story on the Eastern side. I’d… yeah, I’d like to discuss a couple of those, and then I’m going to see where this crazy boat takes me.

Final Fantasy 6 and Lunar are, in my humble opinion, two out of three of the best Eastern style VRP games ever made (the missing third one is Chrono Trigger). I consider all three to be stellar examples of what Eastern style games can do: tell a magnificent story

A battle in Final Fantasy VI

See what I mean by "horribly dated" graphics? I don't care - I dare you to play Final Fantasy 6 and not find Kefka to be a phenominal villian.

well, with fascinating characters.  The fact that all three are, from a graphical standpoint, horribly dated is irrelevant. The combat

Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete

Image via Wikipedia

systems run quickly and fluidly, the dialogue is well written/translated, and the characters are deep. These are wonderful games that tell great stories. The lack of control you have over the story is something you can sacrifice to experience the tale. The downside is that they’re sort of like novels – with rare exception, one doesn’t usually read the same novel twice in a row. Why would you? You know the story, so… you wait a while. If it was great, you pick it up again and start reading some more.

Chrono Trigger

I honestly can't believe my brother didn't mention this one. If you haven't played it, you should.

On the Western front (ha-ha), on the other hand, I have a few more things to say about what a Western RPG is all about.  My brother listed two examples, mentioned previously. He also brought up Wizardry, though, which is part of what confused me about his choices as exemplars of the Western oeuvre. Wizardry involved taking a single character on a dungeon crawl. There was little story – but that was the idea. You were encouraged to imagine yourself as this might warrior/wizard/whatever going up against the Mad Overlord – and everything else was up to you.

As Western RPGs progressed, more and more story was included, but rarely at the cost of character freedom. In more recent times, however, Western RPGs seem to be changing. More and more, the primary quest becomes bigger and bigger, with everything that isn’t the primary quest becoming smaller and smaller. Dragon Age does this so badly that I can’t even think of it as a “Western Style” RPG any more: it’s a Eastern Style game with Western Influences, and it’s a far cry from back when Bioware used to make – well, when they used to make good games, like Baldur’s Gate.

Not all Western RPGs are driving themselves off this cliff, however. The Elder Scrolls series embraced character freedom in its first incarnation, and has never turned back. Right now, I have a Skyrim character who’s barelypaused to look at the main quest line, and I can’t help but think I’m having more fun than anyone I know who “beat” the “main” quest.  I’m not saying anyone is playing it wrong – you can’t play it wrong. I’m just saying that I’m still having a blast, and I haven’t a clue what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m lost in the world, and that’s what Western RPGs are supposed to do. I

English: The text logo of The Elder Scrolls II...

This game is awesome. Dragon Age isn't. This game exemplifies everything great about Western RPGs. Dragon Age is a shitty Japanese style RPG. I love Japanese style RPGs when they're good. Dragon Age just isn't.

love when RPGs do that for me. I hated Dragon Age because it just couldn’t stop forcing me to do what it wanted me to do exactly the way it wanted me to do it.

So, yeah – I’m big into more open world systems. I’m excited about Dragon’s Dogma (from Capcom, which should make your eyebrow go up) despite it’s funny name. I’m even more excited about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, despite the name that goes on forever. I wish I saw something that looked as good as any of these on the Eastern RPG front, but… I just don’t.

Dragon Age can go suck it.

Aww, CRAP! I forgot to bring up Fable! Oh, well – I guess I’ll have to save that one for later.

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Air beds are Dangerous, and the Nintendo DS is a mentally challenged laptop.

SO, I was sitting on the couch with my fiancée rubbing A+D ointment into her new tattoo. The airbed leaning against our wall made like a cheap suit and decided to fold up and collapse. Onto our coffee table. It then committed a party foul and spilled a beer. My fiancée – who is suffering from illness derived from eating lobster left out for two days by the stupidest chef on the planet – jumped to her feet saying “My laptop, my laptop!” She snatched up her laptop, and I immediately grabbed paper towels and started cleaning up the mess.

She started rubbing the bottom of her lapt

op with another paper towel while softly cooing “it’s okay sweetie… it’s okay…”

It was only at this point that I noticed that a.) my laptop was still sitting on the now-inebriated table, and b.) she had paid no attention what so ever to her Nintendo DS when the beer went ass-over-teakettle. I also jumped and grabbed my laptop, which, thankfully, turned out to still be on the wagon. I put it down and grabbed the DS (which the love of my life bought for herself for Christmas), which was just taking its first tentative sips of Miller Lite.

As I paper toweled the little thing off, I looked at it carefully and realized that the DS is basically the slow-but-lovable mentally challenged cousin of a Laptop. It even folds in half like one.

English: A Nintendo DS Lite, shown with stylus.

A mentally challenged Laptop. It's loveable and great at what it does, but my Netbook is much cleverer.

Which, believe it or not, is all I had to say.

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